I’ve Experienced the Silicon Valley Bias That Ex-Google Employee James Damore Wrote About. It’s a Serious Problem
It’s not easy to recognize groupthink when you’re on the inside of the ideological bubble.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
You may have read what some reporters are calling an "anti diversity screed" entitled Google's Ideological Echo Chamber. This was written by a former Google engineer James Damore. I say former because he has been fired for perpetuating gender stereotypes which breaks Google company policy. In his screed, Damore touches on many subjects but the one that stuck with me was his main idea that Google has fallen victim to a left-leaning groupthink. While I disagree with Damore's assertion that women are one way and men are another, I do agree with him that there is an echo chamber.
I want to tell you that this is not just Google, it's the majority of Silicon Valley and the tech industry. As a conservative thinking entrepreneur and a capitalist, I have experienced this alienation Damore feels first hand. I've had close friends and advisors tell me that even if I think a certain way, not to say it publicly. They want me to censor myself in order to avoid potential negative outcomes for my business interests. This is not just annoying and unethical in my view, it creates a feeling of loneliness and I know I'm not the only one sitting on the outside of the Silicon Valley groupthink
Creating Diverse Groups of People Does Not Necessarily Create Diverse Thinking
There are good people in tech, loads and loads of good, well-intentioned people. They, like myself, fully support diversity and inclusion. We believe we need more women in tech and specifically in leadership positions. We agree that diverse people and therefore diverse minds and ways of thinking lead to better business outcomes. Where it gets interesting is that last bit. Tech companies preach about diversity in thinking but don't practice what they preach. They believe hiring people of different nationalities and skin colors creates different thinking, and it definitely helps, but if all of those different people are like-minded, we haven't achieved our goals as an industry. We're engaging in confirmation bias.
Hiding Your True Colors
I supported Trump for president from my perspective as an business owner, as did many of my friends in tech. When he won the election, there was cheering in my apartment. We were excited for the implications this had on our businesses' bottom lines. I posted some genuine thoughts to Facebook and noticed several venture capitalists unfriend me the next day. They shut me out because they didn't want to hear what I had to say and they didn't want to be affiliated with me in any way. Seconds after I posted, I read posts from the same people who were in the apartment cheering with me. They had taken to Facebook to complain that Trump had become president. It was unnerving. They needed to fit in with their Silicon Valley peers because it's good for business. They were and are still fearful of telling people in tech what they really think because they know the power and potential of backlash from business partners, customers and the media.
What Can We Do?
It starts with removing bias, which is actually incredibly hard to do. It's not easy to be fully aware of all of your internally constructed belief structures and biases. We need to detach ourselves from the idea that other viewpoints are inherently evil or bad. Instead of shutting people out and creating bubbles, we need to listen even closer when we disagree. Let's have real, legitimate conversations and educate each other where we need to be educated.
We have many challenges as a tech sector. I agree with the majority of my peers when I say that discrimination against women is a serious challenge we need to overcome it. I also believe that the tech sector needs to be more open and inclusive to differing opinions. People should feel comfortable sharing their ideas. I think most of you would agree that diverse thinking leads to better outcomes.